The First Wave (Der Erster Schub)

Egon Erwin Kisch. Der Rasende Reporter

I was arrested the morning after the evening of the Reichstag fire

I had moved into the room in the Mozartstraße exactly four weeks previously, on the day on which Hindenburg gave the power over Germany to Herr Hitler. Hindenburg, whom the social democrats, with prodigious mobilization, had made their imperial presidential candidate a few months previously.

On Tuesday, 28th February, the morning after the Reichstag fire, my doorbell rang at 5 am. I hear how my housekeeper asks who it is. Somebody asked if I was at home, and whether my room has a second exit. Then she knocked at my door. “Herr Kisch, open the door, please.” I opened the door, and a man leapt in. “Criminal police! Put your hands up.” I show him that I have nothing in my hands. A second man has leapt into the room. “Herr Kish, we have orders to take you to the police station.”

“Certainly, gentlemen. Please take a seat while I get dressed, if you have no objection.”

“Do you have a weapon?” I said no. They looked in my bedside table, among my clothes. No weapon.

May I wash myself? Yes, I can have a wash, and even go to the toilet, although it is not quite right in the presence of a stranger. While I am getting dressed, just in conversation, the gentlemen, a detective superintendent and an inspector from the criminal police, asked me what time I got home last night.

“About half past midnight.”

“Where had you been?”

“Here, in the West End. I had nothing to do with the Reichstag fire”

“How do you know about the fire? Were you expecting us?”

They seem to be sure that I am the arsonist. They didn’t realize that, as we had all speculated yesterday evening, hundreds of other officers were arresting other radical left-wingers at the same time.

I told them that I was definitely not the arsonist, but they just said that it was all the same to them, they had been told to bring me to the police station. And they had to search my apartment.

“I haven’t got any money on me. Can I borrow some from my housekeeper?” “Be my guest.” My housekeeper leant me five marks, which turned out to be worth nothing at the police station, because seven marks and sixty pfennigs are deducted from the money confiscated from prisoners to pay for their official prison meal. Only if you had more than seven marks sixty on you could you spend the rest on cigarettes and other little luxuries.

“Do you intend to attempt to escape or resist arrest?”, one of my guests asked me.

“No, I don’t.”

“Good. In that case we don’t need to put handcuffs on you.”

We walked to the subway station. Viktoria-Luise-Platz, where a worker is distributing printed leaflets, “Reichstag fire… a put-up job! Provocation!”

My escorts look at each other. Should they arrest the hawker? The superintendent shakes his head. He only has orders to bring Kisch to the police station. Why should he put the success of this mission at risk by voluntarily exceeding his duty? We take the subway to Alexanderplatz.

And now we go to Internal Affairs, the political police.

The corridor is black with people. The first person I see in the distance is the  lawyer Dr. Apfel, the advocate of Max Hölz. It’s a good job he’s here, I think, he can represent me as well. “Hello Dr. Apfel, I have been arrested.” “Me too”, was all he said.

I see others as well. Carl von Ossietzky, chief editor of the Weltbühne, who had recently explained, under a storm of mockery, that one had to vote for Thälmann[P1] , because a vote for Hindenburg was a vote for Hitler. It is today exactly a month since Hindenburg handed over the German people to Hitler, none of the democratic and social-democratic Hindenburg voters are laughing now. There is Erich Mühsam, idealist, humourist and anarchist, still a little boy, despite his bushy beard. There are the novel authors Ludwig Renn and Kurt Kläber, Dr. Hodann, the sex researcher, the member of parliament, Schulz-Neukölln, Otto Lehmann-Rußbüldt, the former president of the League for Human Rights, Dr. Schminke, the socialist public health doctor, a pioneer of social health care in Germany… And lots of others for whom nocturnal arrest today, the 28th February 1933, will be the first step on their direct route to being sacrificed. They are already know it, today.

A police cordon separates us from the rest of the corridor. They are all holding their revolvers raised or swinging rubber truncheons. They all have blunt features, they are professional hard cases, villains, as they would refer to each other. Their role of police is completely new to them. The police was traditionally their worst enemy. How should such thugs behave when they are dressed up as the forces of law and order? They answer this questioning of their uncertainty by behaving more thuggishly than ever. They make insulting remarks about us, and when they shout at someone, they refer to him as ‘scum’ or ‘red swine’, using the informal form of address, ‘du’.

After waiting for a few hours, the prisoners were escorted into the cellar, where they had to remove their shoe laces and empty out their pockets into their hats. The new policemen, decorated with the swastika, checked carefully that no one retained any of their possessions. They were familiar with other people’s pockets, their hands slid expertly along the lining of coats, and trouser hems. Trained fingers examined stockings and bags.

During this procedure, which was reminiscent of highway robbery, the newly appointed chief of police, Herr von Levetzow, drops in, with his entire staff. Yes, he really is called Levetzow, like Wolfgang von Goethe’s most loved lover. Perhaps he is even distantly related to Goethe’s Ulrike. The descendent would certainly not be able to inspire Goethe’s affection, but he has already succeeded in inspiring the affection of Noske[P2] , who made him an Admiral of the German Republic, against the protests of the left. And now the Admiral is standing on the bridge in Alexanderplatz giving the orders of battle.

“So that’s the mob?” he asked, and squinted at the mob disdainfully.

“Yes, Herr chief of police”, barked his adjutant immediately.

“Where were you arrested?” he asked a grey-haired prisoner. “Stand to attention when I address you, you lout!”

Then he spotted someone else who was not standing up straight enough for his liking, “Throw the scum into the bunker, immediately, and put him in irons so tightly that his hide cracks”

Two court officials lunged zealously at Otto Lehmann-Rußbüldt, and dragged him away. Turning pale at their own powerlessness, the prisoners make their first acquaintance with official atrocity.

“That’s the end of human rights”, I whispered to my tall friend next to me.

“For a while at least”, answered Ludwig Renn.


 [P1]The communist presidential candidate, who split the left-wing vote by refusing to stand down in favour of a joint candidate.

 [P2]Controversial SPD minister responsible for the violent suppression of left-wing risings by the army.

Published in: KischTruth Kisch Truth

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